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Boston Ballet

Anna-Marie Holmes' (after Marius Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev) "Sleeping Beauty"

Wang Center, Boston, MA

May 3-20, 2001
By Stephen E. Arnold

The Boston Ballet production of Sleeping Beauty suggests a source, if not the truth, behind the oft-quoted statement made by Balanchine that equated ballet with woman.

Whether fairy or mortals, the female characters in Sleeping Beauty, for example, motivate all of the action. Moreover, the ballet centers on important moments of a young woman's life, i. e. christening, maturation, courting, and marriage, and thereby structures Sleeping Beauty into a prologue and three acts. Additionally, thematic material embodied in the gifts bestowed on the infant Princess by benevolent Fairies, each fairy is female, find their way into the mature Aurora's dancing. Nevertheless, Aurora, as danced by Larissa Ponomarenko and Pollana Riberio, clearly speaks (dances) with her own voice.

In fact, except for the evil fairy Carabosse, - traditionally danced by a male dancer - the movement danced by the female cast, whether corps, soloists, or principal, radiates openness, balance, verticality, and power. One may even go so far as to say that in Sleeping Beauty that the females define or at least outline what maleness is. For example, in the prologue the Cavaliers to the Good Fairies enter without dramatic preparation from between the main drape and the up stage leg on traditionally 'masculine' sounds of brass and fanfare as if an after thought. Once accepted into the celebratory crowd that of mostly female guests, however, Fairy Attendants circle them with grins, raised limbs, and whirring steps. They circle the Cavaliers to mirror or educate, it seemed, rather than honor them.

A more telling example, however, of just who does what in the world of Sleeping Beauty occurs at the end of Act II. Upon reaching the shore of the kingdom of King Florestan XIV, (transported in the Lilac Fairy's boat) the Prince encounters 'wild things' - in the form of Carabosse and her Gargoyle attendants - determined to drive him out. Confused the Prince hesitates, retreats until steadied by the timely arrival of the Lilac Fairy who arms him with a sword. Still confused, the Lilac Fairy instructs and inspires the Prince on the use and purpose of his sword by showing him the sleeping Aurora. (Speaking of swords and sleeping females, Prince Desire is free of the ignorance and strength suffered by Wagner's Siegfried.) Although emboldened by the sight of her and the newfound power of his virile sword, the Prince, nevertheless, remains ineffectual in his combat with Carabosse and her minions. Whether worried or merely wearied, the Lilac Fairy finally intervenes to shoo Carabose and her company away and, thus, facilitates the working out of Sleeping Beauty's Darwinian logic.

As a fertility goddess, the Lilac Fairy exercises the duties of her office by preventing the death of a ripening Aurora and the engineering of the Prince's 'finding' and awakening her. Although denied witness to the outcome of their marriage, we, nevertheless, may assume given the regal authority brought to the Lilac Fairy by Jennifer Glaze and Karla Kovatch that Aurora (and Desire) prospers. Men are, after all, parenthetical in Sleeping Beauty.

Ironically, perhaps, the Boston Ballet production of Sleeping Beauty shared important aspects with the Hodson/Archer reconstruction of Nijinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps. The narrative of both works, for example, centers on the relationship of the divine or the supernatural to the human world. Both works promote marriage as necessary to social continuity, as a human activity important to deities, and as the point of a female's life. Moreover, both pieces allude to the long folk association of death (for the woman) with marriage. In both instances, a young woman must die or endure sleep, death's analogue, as part of her wedding rite. (For a more direct association of death with marriage, consider the story of Persephone.)

Additionally, both serve as pictures of a fanciful and pagan world. Sleeping Beauty like Sacre looks like a succession of pictures whose relationship or narrative flow depends on the imagination or fore knowledge of the spectator. This segmented structure accounts, one thinks, for the sudden entrance of the Cavaliers in the Prologue and the theatrically insipid battle between Prince Desire, Carabosse, her gargoyles, and the Lilac Fairy at the end of Act II. Taken as pictures, that is as illustrations of a text, the attack, retreat, and defeat of Carabosse, for example, is successful. As dance theatre, however, this battle between good and evil is less than successful, if not dead on arrival. In short, the company looked great, the production values were top shelf, and the orchestra played like it meant it, but the direction floundered- a little.


Please join a discussion of this performance in our forum.

Edited by Marie.



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